Shadowproof

How to fight back against the right

Richard Kirsch, Health Care for America Now’s National Campaign Director, has a call to arms for progressive activists:

We are already seeing the violent excesses of the right. They hung freshman Maryland Congressman Frank Kratovil in effigy, painted Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett as a devil with horns, and screamed insults at HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

This is an angry minority, bitter about an America that they don’t recognize, led by a man that doesn’t look like them. These are the same crazies that applauded calls to violence last fall at Sarah Palin rallies and made a hero of Joe the Plumber.

But remember, as the public began to understand what the far right-wingers really stood for, it didn’t take long for a great majority of the electorate to write them off. But since health care won’t be decided at the popular ballot box, we can’t just wait for the public to recognize the reality behind this nutty minority. There are two prizes in the battle at hand – the national press narrative and Congress’ support. We have to win the press war by making it clear that shouts of "socialized medicine" and "government health care" are from a mob on the fringe of American politics. And we need to be sure that wavering Democrats in Congress see that there is strong popular support for health care reform.

Health Care for America Now is joining with progressive groups throughout the country to out-gun the tea-baggers in August. Members of Congress are spending their time at home trying to gauge public support for reform before returning to Washington after Labor Day. It will be a contest all month long, and we have to take it on with all the urgency that the historical task at hand demands.

So, how do we out-gun the right in August? By beating them at their own game.

By now, the lobbyist-written memo "How to Rock the Townhalls" should be familiar to folks. It’s a step by step plan to disrupt town halls across the country and to make this vocal minority seem bigger than it really is. Well, we have an answer to those tactics.

Our field director, Margarida Jorge, has written a counter-memo. Margarida has years of union organizing experience, which means she knows how to go toe-to-toe with intimidation, be they the radical right or corporate bosses. She has laid out tactics for people attending town halls to follow to blunt the right, and tactics for organizers of townhalls to follow to keep their events orderly. You can download her memo here, but let’s put out a few of the best tactics:

  1. Inoculate your staff and your volunteers by telling them what to expect and what purpose lies behind the right-wing demonstrations. The more that the attendees know what to expect; the less startled they will be by the irrational tone and militancy of the protesters.
  2. Bring more people than the other side has. Their side will be smaller but noisier. You must bring enough people to drown them out and to cover all our bases so as to marginalize their disruptive tactics. You don’t want to get into a screaming match, but it must be obvious to everyone—including press—that you represent the majority.
  3. Arrive earlier than the other side does. We need to stack our folks in the front to create a wall around the Member, and we need to stake out the best spots for visibility and signs. Reconnaissance on the venue and an understanding of the staging will be important here. Make sure you do your homework so you can position your folks most effectively.
  4. Be more visible than the other side. Bring more signs and leaflets, and whenever possible, post your signs all over the place so that you visually out-perform the other side. Make sure you have people holding signs in every place where a TV camera is likely to be and that next to every right wing sign, there’s one of your signs with your message.
  5. Have a real plan for the media. Remember, this is a communications strategy that the right wing is using and our goal is to stop them from hijacking and changing the message and tone of these events. Assign 3-5 people to speak with the reporters who attend and make sure the reporters understand the scope and message of the event. If you let the media just report on what they see, they will invariably focus on the mayhem. That is a far juicer story than affordability and the public health insurance option. Don’t wait for the reporter to approach you. You must approach the reporters and be assertive in shaping the narrative that they write. Have someone assigned to greeting the media or checking in media as they arrive. That way you will know who they are and be able to work with them both during the event and afterwards. Also, plan to record both the events you attend and the events you organize. TV stations will use amateur footage to round out their stories, and the other side is recording and posting video online. We need to be able to give the press video of successful events too.

If you’re going to town halls this summer (and I suggest you do, click here to find events in your area), print out a copy of this memo and distribute it to anyone else you know who’s coming. Print out some signs, too, so you can be prepared.

Don’t walk into this battle unarmed. With the right tactics, we can make sure shouting and fear does not prevail this summer, and we get quality, affordable health care for all passed through Congress this fall.

(also posted at the NOW! blog)

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